Say So Long to Shrink-Wrapped Software

At QuickBooks.com 45 percent of those who buy QuickBooks get it as a download.
Illustration: Marc Rosenthal
I recently had to reinstall a whole slew of applications on my work PC, following a clean install of Windows Vista. It took me the better part of the day to get my most important packages up and running. And weeks later, I'm still reinstalling the odd utility or game that helps me make it through the day. But in the end, I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly it all went, and how much of the resurrection occurred without reliance on CDs or DVDs.

Practically everything I needed was a download, from PC World's corporate servers, from the Downloads folder on my hard drive, or from the Web. Almost nothing was on a disc, which certainly wouldn't have been the case several years ago. It made me wonder: Is the age of shrink-wrapped software ending? If disaster strikes, are you better off with discs, or are downloads good enough?

Some people are simply more comfortable using discs, and in some instances, with good reason. "They want the CD-ROM in case anything happens or they have to boot from the CD," says Chris Swenson, director of software industry analysis for the NPD Group, which tracks software sales. Others might not have room on their hard drives to store a lot of installation files. But often, downloading software makes more sense than getting it from discs.

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